Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 9: Sofia, Bulgaria

Wednesday, August 17th: On the overnight train to Bulgaria myself and the British couple I was sharing a compartment with got woken at 3am by border control. We were meant to arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria at 8:45am but actually arrived at 9:20am.

The British couple and I said goodbye, and then I immediately found myself walking towards Makedonia street with some Belgian and Swiss travellers. We departed after a while and some people along the way gave me directions until I bumped into an Italian traveller looking for the same hostel!

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Here I found myself before travelling to Greece.

Hostel Mostel – whichs turns out to be the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

Dropped off my bags and decided to join the Free Sofia Walking Tour at 11am as I was too early to go into my room. I’d never been on a walking tour before and expected it to be really lame and touristic – but it was actually great! Our guide was a very funny historian who was super enthusiastic and made it amazing. They also had lots of other tours to suggest to see more of Bulgaria.

On the way back I walked through a market selling communist era memorabilia and Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski.

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Took a walk to the train station and around town for a while before chilling in the common room with the Italian traveller I’d met.

Thursday the Italian traveller and I decided to go on a hiking tour to the Boyana Waterfall. The hike up took about two hours, with a ten minute break, and was super beautiful.

Boyana Waterfall –

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and then Boyana Church.

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It was a small group and everyone was very friendly.

The tour guide was also very enthusiastic and chatted with us about lots of stuff.

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We made friends with some other travellers on the tour, and after, four of us got a recommendation for lunch from our tour guide; the national archive.

A somewhat imposing building, that you can’t enter without giving passport details, turns out to have a café on the top floor with a 360° view of Sofia.

So you can see the weather coming a mile away!

We decided to go to dinner together, too, to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant; Manastirska Magernitza.

 

One of the other hikers turned out out to be staying in Hostel Mostel so we returned to shower and nap before heading out again.

We all wandered around town after, taking pictures and discussing travelling – and then had to bid goodbye to one of our party. This was surprisingly sad as we’d all known each other less than a day!

We walked back after and went to bed.

Friday I headed to Rila Monastery, a tour which was arranged through the hostel.

They had drivers who drove the two hours out to Rila, which is a lovely drive through some small villages. Going with me were two German and one French traveller.

We stopped into a short hiking route – a short pilgrimage in fact to visit the cave of a monk.

And it turned out you couldn’t come back out from the cave – you had to climb out a small hole in the roof of the cave.

This was actually spectacularly terrifying, even to small woman experienced in circus. But the five of us, including the driver-come-tour-guide survived. We then visited a small chapel dedicated to the mink.

We then carried on to Rila.

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We had two hours to walk around.

There was also a lot carefully preserved frescoes.

Also some traditional clothing and information on farming inside some parts of the building.

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We left a bit early, as everyone was quite tired, and it turned out it was the driver’s last day before holidays so we figured they wouldn’t mind finishing early.

The next day I would realise I left my travelling partner of five years, Günther, in that car.

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The last picture I have of him, looking at Rila.

I went to the train station and reserved my space on the overnight train to Thessaloniki, Greece. I spent some time before the train in the hostel talking to a Welsh family who’d moved to Bulgaria. When I returned to the train station I bumped into three of the French travellers who’d been on the hiking tour. We chatted until the train arrived – at 11:55pm, 25 minutes late.

I had a compartment to myself this time, which at first seemed great – but then was actually a bit unnerving. But did eventually get to sleep.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 7: Travelling to Zagreb, Croatia

To get to Zagreb from Dresden involved many train trips. I boarded a train to Wien, Austria about 9pm, Tuesday August 9th, and arrived there about 7am the next day.

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I’d had my interrail ticket taken upon boarding and had it returned to me, along with a chocolate croissant and a coffee (I’d been asked upon boarding did I like orange juice or coffee).

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My temporary travelling companions, two Danish people I’d shared the compartment with, parted ways. I checked I was on the right platform, made the most of the station Wi-Fi, and then boarded a train to Celje, Slovenia.

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My new temporary travelling companions were a couple from Belfast, who were travelling to Slovenia. Went between chatting with them, napping, playing a card game and wandering around the car. Later two older Austrian people joined us and gave out about our luggage arrangements.

Arrived in Celje a bit late.

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But made the next train; on to Đurmanec! Got checked by border control twice on this tiny two-carriage train, one of whom seemed somewhat suspicious of a lone Irish person travelling on small local trains to Zagreb.

Arrived in Đurmanec – and hit the language barrier hard. There was a lot of miming and pointing involved in telling me my next train would be here soon for Zabok.

Another small local train. I was the only one on it for the first few stops, travelling through the Croatian countryside. Then arrived in Zabok and straight onto the last train of the day for Zagreb. I was joined by a German person for this journey who happily entertained me and my poor German.

Arrived in Zagreb around 5pm! Here I was staying with a penpal I had met five years previously. We’d been in and out of contact through letters, Facebook and LinkedIn. They were in work when I arrived so I took some time to catch up via Wi-Fi. I also tried to use the bathroom in the station but sadly got shouted at for not knowing the currency correctly.

Got through to my pen-pal and got to their house after a few stops on the tram. We were both pretty tired so went to bed early after catching up.

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The next day, Thursday 11th of August, started with getting slightly lost and ending up at Jordanovac. Eventually found the number 9 tram and went a few stops and found my way again.

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Found the Dolac market and Zagreb cathedral.

Then casually followed a tour group from the cathedral to the Naive Art Gallery.

Then found the Botanical gardens which was the highlight of Zagreb for me.

Sat in front of the gallery in the green space and looked up a vegetarian place to eat.

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The internet recommended Zrno, which did good falafel and great pudding.

Friday was my last day in Zagreb. My penpal was also packed that morning to go on holidays in Budapest. I wasn’t feeling very adventurous that day so I stayed in my penpal’s apartment and tried to eat some of the food I’d been told to bring (as it would only go off while they were away), read Sandman and packed.

At 6pm I got the tram back to the train station and sat out in the green ’til it got buggy. I went inside the train station and soon had some stranger talking to me, trying to convince me to go on holidays with them and trying to buy me a drink.

I bought some books from the book stall in the station and sat down for a while to read, and got talking to someone from Poland. They were amused to hear that the biggest juggling convention in the world would be in Poland the following year.

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We boarded the train to Beograd, Serbia, late at night. My temporary companions in sleep were a German family of four.

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Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 3: Utrecht

On the Tuesday of the EJC, 2nd of August, I took the train to Utrecht to meet a penpal of mine, of about a year, whom I’d never met.

We found each other, after only a mild struggle one would expect to be avoided in the age of smart phones, Utrecht Centreaal station. We proceeded to have a lovely day together wandering misty Utrecht taking pictures, visiting cool buildings and game shops, satrting with lunch in Loof (Leaf)

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We visited St Martin’s cathedral – which would boast the highest church tower in the Netherlands, the Dom Tower, if it were attached to the cathedral itself but unfortunately the unfinished nave collapsed and the tower is free standing.

Inside the cathedral was a very old map of Utrecht.

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And some lovely art depicting Night and Day.

We also found our way into the garden.

We continued wandering around Utrecht in the mist (I wore flip-flops and shorts, believing they were the smartest choice with the least material to get wet as I hadn’t much proper rain-gear).

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This image we found on the bridge crossing a canal. Waving at whomever drove the boat along the canal illicited a wave in return.

Turns out Utrecht is a big student town and has a lot of games and comic-book shops. I managed to pick up some of the Star Realms expansions, and a copy of The Game (great for travelling!) with instructions in Dutch (but it’s quite simple).

We entered a number of museum gift shops (they always have the best, most original souvenirs) including a music museum.

We walked back around to a café that had some interesting looking cakes (which turned out to be mousse in disguise) and chatted before parting.